NOME, Alaska (AP) — Musher Aliy Zirkle on Tuesday completed a bittersweet Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race across Alaska, and credited the people of Alaska with helping her pull through a harrowing ride in which she was attacked by a man on a snowmobile.
Zirkle brought her team of 13 dogs down Nome's Front Street through a boisterous crowd chanting her name Tuesday morning. It's Zirkle's fifth consecutive top five finish.
The attacks on Zirkle and four-time champion Jeff King marred this year's race across two mountain ranges, down the mighty Yukon River and along the wind-scoured Bering Sea coast. Prosecutors contend the man rammed both mushers' dog teams or sleds, killing one of King's dogs and injuring or bruising others on both teams.
An exhausted Zirkle didn't address the attack directly in post-race interviews. However, she did say this year's Iditarod was "really hard, physically and emotionally."
Zirkle said her nature in these situations is to count only on herself and her dogs. But something happened — and then kept happening — after the early Saturday morning attack.
"It's kind of what I did, and then Alaska like tugged back," she said. "Every checkpoint I went through, people were so supportive.
"I couldn't just be with myself. It turned out, I was with everyone," said Zirkle, who is a favorite of mushing fans.
Zirkle had appeared shaken on a video after the attack telling a race official: "Someone tried to kill me with a snowmachine," using the Alaska term for snowmobile.
She was attempting to become only the third woman ever to win the nearly thousand-mile race across Alaska and the first since the late Susan Butcher won her fourth title in 1990. Zirkle finished second from 2012-2014, before dropping to fifth place last year.
Zirkle was born in Manchester, New Hampshire, in 1969 and first came to Alaska in 1990, midway through getting a degree in biology from the University of Pennsylvania. She lived in a wall tent on the Alaska Peninsula, counting birds for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
She went back to college and finished her degree in 1992, and then came right back to Alaska. She and her husband, musher Allen Moore, own a kennel. Both are entered in this year's race, and he was running in 32nd place.
They built their home in Two Rivers, Alaska, where they hunt moose in the fall.
At the finish line, fans chanted her name, hugged her and she even got a bouquet of roses.
"People are incredibly supportive of me. I guess I better go hold up my end of the bargain," she said.